Many sports fans have spent part of today in moral outrage over Rajon Rondo calling NBA referee Bill Kennedy a "faggot." They've used the opportunity to show how inclusive of gay people they are, and how ethically upstanding they can be on social media. After all, they're good people -- They don't endorse the kind of mean-spirited bigotry Rondo displayed on Dec. 3.
Yet so many of the same sports fans and writers this year are part of the problem.
Rondo is trying to make nice today, tweeting love - but no apology - to the LGBT community:
My actions during the game were out of frustration and emotion, period!— Rajon Rondo (@RajonRondo) December 14, 2015
They absolutely do not reflect my feelings toward the LGBT community. I did not mean to offend or disrespect anyone.— Rajon Rondo (@RajonRondo) December 14, 2015
I call bullshit.
I'll address his offense to the LGBT community shortly.
But at the very least he disrespected the entire profession of officiating. Most people in sports will want to dismiss that part, and their role in the creation of the environment for officials. You cannot separate the two in this case.
Frankly, few people care about that piece because, to many, referees and officials are the scum of the sports world, the worst part of the game. With the same keyboard they use to lash out at Rondo, fans and sportswriters have spewed the most vile venom at referees who "blew a game" for their team. They have contributed to a sports culture that increasingly blames "everything" that goes wrong in a game on the people in grey shirts and stripes.
Is it any wonder that Rondo might lash out at a referee for a call he didn't like in a game against his former team?
Is it any wonder that he might go to the predictable well of homophobia when selecting how to hit Kennedy the hardest?
Is it any wonder that Kennedy's sexual orientation only made Rondo more emboldened?
To be sure, fans lashing out at officials is nothing new and is different from a player doing the same thing. As a football official, the fans during a game can say anything they want and it doesn't bother me. Frankly, I've never heard anti-gay or racial slurs from the stands, though that may be because I tune it out. This past season one fan got on my case for the better part of a quarter. It actually made me smile.
What I hear from players and coaches is different. I think it is for most officials. From my perspective, while the fans are part of the stadium, the people on the field are part of the game. I don't meet or talk with the people in the stands.
In the three years I've been officiating youth, high school and junior college football, I have gotten called a "faggot" by someone on the field only once. Actually, it was "fucking faggot." He was smart about it, launching the expletive after the game when there are no flags to be thrown, no penalties to be assessed. As soon as I reported the incident to the people beyond my pay grade, they handled it.
Still, it was a punch to the gut. Coaches -- and to a lesser extent players -- have said plenty of unkind things to me (and every other official) on the field. It's truly "the heat of the game" when a play went haywire, there was a turnover, somebody screwed up on the field, and the person right in front of you is wearing stripes. I get it.
For the most part I listen, acknowledge and move on. Sometimes he has a point and I adjust.
When those comments from anyone on or off of the field step over the line and the F-bomb gets dropped, it's never acceptable. "The heat of the moment" -- the "emotion," as Rondo tweeted -- does not educate the use of slurs of any kind.
Funny, I don't use racial or homophobic slurs in the heat of the moment. Ever. When it's not in your heart, it's not in your anger either.
"The heat of the moment" is not a reason, rationalization or excuse for going on a minute-long homophobic tirade against an official.
What makes the Kennedy-Rondo situation so sad is that Rondo likely knew Kennedy was gay and launched at him anyway. According to Samer Kalaf at Deadspin, Kennedy's sexual orientation was an open secret for years. Having been in the league for a decade, Rondo knew the rumors about Kennedy if he didn't know the truth in total.
As a black man Rondo knew the sting of epithets, yet he didn't hold back with Kennedy. It made him all the more aggressive with it.
For that, Rondo got a one-game suspension, which is virtually meaningless in a season of 82 matches to a player who has started many hundreds of games. The Kings are mired in another crappy season, in 13th place out of 15 teams in the Western Conference. A one-game suspension? Please.
When Rondo played with Jason Collins for the 2012-13 season, he didn't know Collins was gay. It makes you wonder what Collins heard from Rondo in the months before he came out publicly as well. Collins was not able to comment for this story.
Rondo took his frustration with hard-working NBA officials to a place many others wouldn't, to be sure. Yet in a sports culture that still is not taking seriously the elimination of gay slurs, and in a sports environment that suddenly points fingers at officials for, well, just about everything, is anyone really surprised this happened?
If Kennedy had not come out publicly today, we may never have known it happened. The NBA suspended Rondo late last week but did not release the use of anti-gay slurs.
If it weren't for Kennedy being gay and taking very seriously the language Rondo was using, he may have never gotten a technical foul or been ejected from the game. The use of anti-gay slurs, after all, is not specifically barred in the NBA rules.
It makes me wonder how often this is really happening, and how often it gets swept under the proverbial rug.
What I know is that as long as the sports world continues to turn a deaf ear to these slurs, they will continue to be used. Homophobia will continue to fester.
As long as fans and sports writers continue to make referees and officials the scum of the sports world, that homophobia will continue to be directed at them.